THE BLOG

Anything Less Is Capitulation

17/03/2014 10:53 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

Moscow's occupation of the Crimea raises a number of critical questions, but one thing is certain: the West's strategy for Russia is an abject failure. Prominent voices may express hope that the NATO-Russia Council, the OSCE, or a special summit of the G-8 will provide the forum for a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, but the fact remains: integrating Russia into the multilateral institutions of the West was supposed to prevent Moscow from returning to the sort of brutal power politics practiced by the Tsars and Commissars in the first place.

A bit of recent history is illustrative: Consultations between NATO and Russia over European security began in 1991, just a year after German reunification. In 1994, Russia became a member of NATO's "Partnership for Peace." To further institutionalize cooperation, the NATO-Russia Council was created only three years later.

Similar efforts were undertaken by the EU and the G-7 to integrate Russia into the European and global economy. In 1997 the EU and Russia signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and in 1998 Russia was invited to join the leading industrial economies. The G-7 became the G-8.

The results of all this integration? Instead of the desired liberalization of Russian society we have stood by and witnessed the transformation of the Russian press into an instrument of state policy; the suppression of political oppositions figures who have been harassed or subject to sham legal procedures; and the takeover of critical industries by a corrupt gang of Putin-cronies with roots in the former Soviet KGB. Meanwhile Europe's own industry has become ever more dependent on Russian energy and markets.

The results of Europe's energy and economic dependence on Russia? Political weakness.

Its previous strategy in a shambles, Europe now faces a tough choice--a choice everyone would like to avoid since the available options all mean the end of the comforting self-deception that has guided European policy ever since the election of Vladimir Putin. Instead of concrete proposals, general calls for negotiations abound: Negotiations between Moscow and Kiev; negotiations between Russia and the EU. But when countries are invaded, vague and general statements won't do. The time has come for specifics.

What exactly are we supposed to negotiate? The conditions under which Russia can occupy a neighboring state? Or how much of the Ukraine it can keep? No- Europe needs to choose between the two remaining options. Anything less is capitulation.

If Europe is to remain true to its principles it cannot accept an outright violation of the Helsinki Final Act and the various Conventions of the Council of Europe, to say nothing of the United Nations Charter. It cannot tolerate the violation of the territorial integrity of a state in the middle of Europe. But what does that mean? Just how dear are those principles to which Europeans point when they want to show how different from, yes, how much better they are than the rest of the world? Is Europe willing to pay a price for the defense of its principles? Or at the end of the day are stable energy futures more important than the future of the Ukraine?

If a principled foreign policy has become too costly or entails too many risks, Europe can always return to the old art of Realpolitik and grant Putin special rights in Russia's traditional sphere of influence. Of course it would have to demand something in return, or at least establish the basic terms of the new power political game. Yes, such a strategy would require a new definition of the European idea, as Europe would once again be divided between East and West. But if Europeans have come to value their own comfort over the freedom of other Europeans, then a new definition is already overdue.